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Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter No. 95 June 1, 2009

Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter

"A Bulletin For Folks Who Love Mount Gretna. . . Wherever They Happen to Live"
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No. 95                                                                                                                                       June 1, 2009

(Note to our online readers: Color photos, hyperlinks to referenced articles and other features are available in the e-mailed edition of this newsletter, distributed without charge. Our readers' email addresses are never shared with anyone, for any purpose. The Mt. Gretna Newsletter has no political or commercial aims; its only goal is to inform, entertain and occasionally amuse its readers and an aging editor who enjoys keeping in touch with the world. . . and, especially, with Mt. Gretnans near and far.  To add your name to the subscriber list, send your request to:


Mt. Gretna's Enduring Mystery

When it comes to satisfying something that stirs deep within the human spirit, Mt.Gretna may have few peers. Hugh Maxwell, charting the route for the Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad, noticed it in 1883. "A place thickly wooded," he wrote, "seemingly a road to mountain solitude."

Over more than a century, that same feeling has reached out to touch others, even modern-day commuters. "All the tensions just seem to melt as I head toward home," says a woman who returns here every evening from her office in Harrisburg.

Before she left her job out of town a few years ago and began working full time in the borough office, Linda Bell told us, "When I come over the mountaintop, I slip back into 1943 and leave technology behind."

What is it about Mt. Gretna that impels this elusive, indefinable essence? Does it spark an alchemy helping to smooth out the bumps and vicissitudes of ordinary life for those who dwell here?

Those questions remain unanswered, a mystery.. The late Barry Miller, who figured prominently in the rebuilding of the Playhouse 20 years ago, thought about such things a lot.
Cottages so close they almost touchHow does it all work, this mixture scattered across distinct municipal entities -- each with differing governing bodies and individual school districts, with their separate police and fire departments? What explains its enduring appeal, its enigmatic efficiencies?

How, indeed, do people manage to live so closely together, sometimes on sites originally laid out for Campmeeting tents? In cottages nestled so closely together that neighbors breakfasting on their porches often pass the pancake syrup from one table to another, along with muffins, butter, coffee and jam..                        Photo: Debrak Donmoyer,Bungalow

"Maybe," said Barry, with wisdom that characterized his success in careers spanning the fields of both education and business, "it's best not to probe too deeply."  

A jumbled mass of municipal entities? Dorothy Parker's description of Los Angeles, "72 suburbs in search of a city," comes to mind: Mt.Gretna's multi-layered assortment includes the Campmeeting, the Chautauqua, Mt. Gretna borough, the Mt. Gretna Authority, Mt. Gretna Heights, Stoberdale, Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge. It is a maze that sometimes confounds even old-timers.

From the office where she administers business affairs for the borough (and the Chautauqua and the Mt. Gretna Authority), Linda regularly fields calls from residents whose questions must be answered elsewhere. To many, it is a hopelessly tangled mixture.

Yet in the hearts and minds of those who merely visit occasionally -- coming to the Playhouse on weekends, or sharing in family fun at the lake, or perhaps recalling the memory of a long-ago summer romance, Mt. Gretna's diverse elements are all inextricably bound together. Indeed all do share a common thread historically, and perhaps an increasingly intertwined future.

That's why several programs this summer tracing Mt. Gretna's historical evolution may have more than passing interest. 

The series begins June 13, with a journey that takes the form of a community-wide scavenger hunt through Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge. . . through the fields where soldiers once trained for battle and areas where, some may be surprised to learn, Mt. Gretna's history began even before the founding of the Chautauqua.

On June 20, Mt. Gretna Heights and Stoberdale will share the spotlight. First at a gathering at Mt. Gretna's Historical Society headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, then at a potluck supper at the Heights Community Building. Everyone in town is invited to join in.

Then on Aug. 1, there's a nighttime self-guided walking tour throughout the Campmeeting. "Illumination of our Cottages" is the theme, and again all who live in Mt.Gretna are invited to take part.

All of this, the historical society hopes, will strengthen both understanding and appreciation of a tiny spot, stretching over about two square miles, that generations have loved since the late 1800s.

Still, Barry Miller's cautions echo. Perhaps it is best to guard against tampering with what works and delving too deeply into its essence. Yet it probably doesn't hurt now and then to remind ourselves of how differently life here is lived. As one lady told us after buying a cottage in the Campmeeting recently, "I've come to know more neighbors in three months than I did in Camp Hill in 20 years."

To be sure, life here is different. Different in a town where everyone collects their mail (along with a welcome daily dose of socialization) from a post office shared by 568 other boxholders. Different because people know most neighbors and can call to them by name from their front porches. And certainly different from places where people collect mail from desolate cluster mailboxes and then disappear behind closing garage doors into suburban cocoons.

So every now and then, it's probably good to remind ourselves of what we have. And what we need to preserve. That, in fact, is what we'll be doing this summer.                                       



Helping the guys & gals who help us. . .


When it comes to raising money for a cause they believe in, nobody's more determined than those Mt.Gretna firefighters -- scrambling to pay off a $300,000 loan for that new 2,300 sq. ft. addition to the fire house. The expanded facility, which can provide emergency shelter for seniors during power outages, also houses a fast-attack fire engine, rescue truck and a 1,800-gallon tanker.

Now faced with paying the mortgage, the firefighters are turning to their traditional mix of pasta nights, breakfast buffets, block shoots and mug sales.

What's needed, of course, are pledges -- in a fund-raising campaign that's scheduled to start soon. About 40 such pledges in the $1,000-a-year category over five years would knock $200,000 off the debt. That would ease worries considerably for the firefighters, all of whom are volunteers, giving up their time to save our homes and lives. 

Meanwhile, they're gnawing away at the burden in the best ways they know how.

What's next? A "Book, Bake and Sub" sale June 13. To be sure, the subs are only $5, and not all of that is profit. But every little bit helps. Also coming is another big community-wide breakfast, July 12:  all you can eat for a donation that you stuff in the firefighter's boot as you enter. (Those breakfast donations typically run about $20, thanks to the generosity of Mt. Gretnans who put a high value on their firefighters. But nothing beats the delight of those unexpected $100 bills which volunteers sometimes find stuffed in the boot.)

Readers  wishing to help reduce the debt with contributions in the memory of loved ones -- or who'd like to underscore  their affection for a town where all the historic structures are made of century-old wood --  may click here to send contributions online to Mt. Gretna Fire Company, or by regular mail to P.O. Box 177, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.



In Other News

Get ready for Big Junk Weekend! Not an official holiday, exactly, but one that Mt. Gretna's Thatcher Bornman annually turns into cause for celebration. Starting around mid-morning on Friday, June 12th and continuing through the entire weekend, people pore over giant discards left along the streets of Mt. Gretna borough -- items cast aside and awaiting pickup the following Monday.

By the time Monday rolls around, however, there's not much left for the borough crew to do. Stove
As the junk rolls out, Thatch serves up the dogss, refrigerators, washing machines, old TVs and other junk too big for regular trash collectors -- all qualify as Big Junk treasures. Anyone who wants to can stop by, load them into their trucks, cars or assorted other conveyances and cart them off.

Capping the celebration is Thatcher's robust hot dog roast Sunday night alongside his 108 Lancaster Ave. home, starting around 6 p.m.

All who happen to stop by, whether by chance or as part of what has now become an annual pilgrimage, can enjoy free hot dogs served from the abandoned grill Thatch discovered several years ago, with onions, mustard, ketchup and assorted other garnishes.  True, things like this could happen elsewhere. But, more than any other place on earth, they're more likely to hatch in Mt. Gretna.   

Photo: Dale Grundon


Home and cottage remodelers seeking to blend "the look of then with the comforts of now" may want to mark June 5 on their calendars. That's when specialists in the art of carrying out restorations with historical accuracy will be at the Hall of Philosophy, offering ideas, photos and sources for everything from construction to landscaping, oriental rugs and furniture.

Sponsored by the historical society, the program runs from 6 to 9 p.m. (a scheduling change after the summer calendar went to press) and will include talks by restoration specialist Michael Charelain, guidance from Mt. Gretna architects Roland Nissley and William Barlow, and experts to answer questions about Mt. Gretna's native plants, antiques, and furniture-making.

Playbill magazine highlighted Gretna Theater's season in its May 21 issue. The 125-year-old publication cited two Broadway veterans, Timothy Shew and Jane Brockman, who'll co-star this summer in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." 
Gretna Theater performances open this week with a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper; they'll close July 26 with the final night of "Hello, Dolly."
Click here for this season's full schedule and online ticket sales.

Riverdance fiddler Eileen Ivers just joined Gretna Music's August lineup. The 9-time All-Ireland fiddling champion will be at the Playhouse  Aug. 18 , a Celtic fling sandwiched smack in the middle of summer's jam-packed classical music and jazz smorgasbord.  Tickets for Gretna Music concerts are available online.
Other highlights include Leon Redbone, New Black Eagles Jazz Band, Chestnut Brass Company, and opera -- among 24 concerts on a hyper-active summer schedule that will explore "Just Like Folk," a theme probing folk music's influence on classical music and jazz. The Gretna Music summer season opens July 31 with the Wister Quartet and works of Mendelssohn. It continues through September 6 when the Audubon Quartet, a Mt. Gretna favorite since 1977, closes the 34-year-old series with an all-Dvorak program.
Last summer, Mt. Gretna marathon cyclist Robin Smith was charging cross-country on the non-stop 3,000-mile Race Across America. She and three other team members completed the race in a little over seven days.
So what's she doing this summer? Finishing first in her age group in a 201-mile endurance run across Ohio, for one thing. It's a competition where winners typically stop to rest for a total of only about 5 minutes throughout the entire 12-hour ordeal. 
In what Robin calls "a casual tour," she cycled 400 miles across Pennsylvania on Route 6. And in mid-May, she biked 182 miles to the beach with a group of friends. "Is that enough?" she asks.


For aspiring organists, Mt. Gretna's the place 

When Mt. Gretna's 12th annual recital season resumes next month, two of the Juilliard School's finest will be in the lineup along with three of Central Pennsylvania's best-known organists. The series' growing stature now makes it easy for progenitor Peter Hewitt to attract performing artists. He has already booked four of the five who'll appear here next year.

This year's standouts include Chelsea Chen, winner of the 2009 Lilli Boulanger Memorial Prize for musicians of "unusual talent and promise" under the age of 35. A Juilliard graduate now studying with famed Yale organist Thomas Murray, she spent a Fulbright year introducing classical organ performance to Taiwan audiences. She'll be here July 2 (and the following week at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center). Another Juilliard student, Eugene Lavery, New Zealand's 2006 National Organ Competition winner, performs July 23.

Other organists in the series include Millersville University professor Ross Ellison July 9; the director of liturgical music at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Harrisburg, Nicholas Basehore, July 16; and the music director at York's St. Mathew Lutheran Church, Jonathan Noel, July 30.  Seating in the recital series at 1 Princeton Ave. is limited. For reservations, call 964-1830, ext. 3.

Organ music aficionados note: 16-year-old Mt. Gretnan Ryan Brunkhurst, one of the nation's youngest church organists and choir directors, will open the summer recital series at Annville's St. Mark Lutheran Church, July 5 at 7 p.m.


Cicada Tickets? Better hurry. Already sold out is Phil Dirt's Beach Boys tribute. Even before the box office opened today (June 1), orders for over 65% of the 3,500 available tickets had flooded in through the mail -- the best pre-season sales tally ever, reports volunteer Dick Smith.
Others on the schedule: The Vogues (Aug. 5); Shades of Blue Big Band (Aug 6); a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tribute (Aug 10); and Main Street Cruisers oldies band (Aug. 11). All tickets $11.

Nicole Maurer, a Lebanon High grad whose passion for fitness led her from designing corporate websites in Atlanta to traveling around Europe
Fitness instructor Nicole Maurer and then to leading fitness buffs on multi-day adventures through the Desert Southwest, will give fitness instruction tailored to the specialized needs of small groups at the Heights Community Building this summer.
Nicole and her boyfriend, international competitive cyclist Scott Gray, last year moved "back to Mt. Gretna, since it is undoubtedly the best spot in the entire country."
While Scott competes around the world (see "Numbers," Mt. Gretna Newsletter, November 2008), she's busy as one of three owners at Absolute Wellness, a local company that combines fitness, nutrition, exercise and stress management instruction. To inquire about classes, contact Nicole by e-mail or phone (717) 769-4492.

Also back at the Heights Community Building this summer: dance instructor and off-Broadway performer Ali Perzel, with lessons for youngsters from age 6 and up as well as teens and adults. Ballet, lyrical, hip-hop and modern: Ali's got it all. Tel. (610) 621-0380 or drop her an e-mail for details.

Chautauqua's University for a Day, a popular new series introduced last year, repeats June 27, a Saturday, which planners hope will make attendance easier for those with weekday commitments. Cost: $50. Tel. 964-1830.


Serving up everything from bluegrass to gospel with a little Jimmy Buffet and Frank Sinatra tossed in, the Heritage Festival opens with a cappella Doo-Wop at the Campmeeting Tabernacle June 27.

Coordinator Pat Allwein, the 59-year-old athlete who delivers fuel oil in the winter and runs marathons in the summer (see "Numbers" below), is already thinking about next year's shows. She'll survey audiences this year. "People tell me they enjoy these shows," says Pat, "but I know that not everyone wants to see the same groups."

What do the performers like best? Acoustics in the century-old Tabernacle, performing outdoors and the overall atmosphere of the Campmeeting, she says. The free Heritage Festival programs gain partial support from donations collected during the performances. Other 7 p.m. programs this summer include the Pastimes' gospel music July 11, Larry McKenna's pop tunes July 17, modern bluegrass with the Shuey Brothers July 18 and Lebanon's Swing Band July 25.


Take a peek into the creative world of rug hooking at Cindy Irwin's Campmeeting cottage Sunday afternoon (June 7). The Conestoga Rug Hooking Guild is holding a "hook-in" on her 610 Fourth St. porch this Sunday (and the first Sundays in July and August as well) from noon to 4 p.m. Visitors are welcome, says Cindy, a certified rug hooking instructor. She's also offering classes on her porch throughout the summer. "Nothing compares with the satisfaction of creating utterly unique rugs," says Cindy, who's been creating rugs for 15 years. Call (717) 284-6318 or click here to drop her a note for more details.
Summer at the Tabernacle has posted its lineup for the 2009 season,  adding news that Elisabeth von Trapp's scheduled appearance Aug. 30 has been postponed to 2010. This year, organizers have shifted the starting times for all evening programs to 7 p.m. 
Crowd favorites likely to pack the open-air auditorium this summer include speakers Tony Campolo and Leonard Sweet, Broadway singer Marie Barlow Martin, the Handbell Festival, a Massed Choir of some 200 voices, the Lancaster British Brass Band, the Susquehanna Chorale and Bob Troxell's Dixieland Orchestra.
The Tabernacle, which normally holds about 750, set an attendance record in the 1980s when 1,100 people jammed into the structure that Lebanon builder John Cilley erected in 1899.
Bishop John Shelby Spong, who the New York Times called "one of the church's most outspoken, boat-rocking leaders in modern times," wraps up his Chautauqua lecture series Thursday morning (June 4) at the Hall of Philosophy. His talk, "Looking Anew at the Easter Moment," begins at 10.
Crews from the same company that repaved Route 117 last summer will be working along Mt. Wilson Road until mid-July. Ephrata's Martin Limestone is handling the four-mile project (from nearby Colebrook to Route 322, where some 3,600 vehicles pass daily.) Martin's workers told us that Mt.Gretna motorists, occasionally snagged last summer in traffic tie-ups beneath a canopy of trees, set a new standard for patience, civility and decorum. As one flagman put it, "They were the most polite drivers we've seen. Not one of them flipped us the bird. First time that's ever happened."  
Pennsylvania Magazine plans two articles (what to see and do, and a brief history) on Mt. Gretna in its July/August issue. 


Art show co-founder Reed Dixon, says the two decades he spent in Mt. Gretna were "by far the most positive artistic inspiration any artist could hope for." A former illustrator for Hallmark Cards who also worked as a senior designer at Armstrong World Industries, Reed helped launch the Mt. Gretna art show in 1975. Now a Lititz resident, he credits his Mt. Gretna years for vast doses of "encouragement from friends and neighbors." 

While living here from 1971 to 1991 (at the Lancaster Avenue cottage now known as "Into the Woods"), he was also self-employed,  the sole proprietor of a graphic design company. "It was great. I never had to drive to work. And my boss was very understanding about vacations and time off to go to the lake."

For the past 40 years or so, Reed has exhibited at art shows around the country. His latest is a month-long abstraction exhibit at the Lebanon Picture Frame and FineArtGallery, opening June 5.


More chess talk than ever this summer?  That's what you'd expect when not one, but two, international chess competitors come to town.  
Scottish chess team captain John Dempsey is here for a few weeks, giving private lessons, group lessons at the Hall of Philosophy every Tuesday afternoon, and holding 'porch chess' sessions at the Campmeeting cottage of another international chess competitor, Gail Babic, 206 Edward Ave., Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
"No instruction on Thursday nights, just casual games for fun," says Gail, a retired teacher who moved here last year from the Virgin Islands. "Everyone is welcome. We have enough space for 16 to 18 people and hope to play until the sun goes down." Details: 717-450-5115 or click here to send an email. 
For children, nobody makes the woods come alive live like Audrey Manspeaker, the innovative naturalist at Governor Dick Park. Her Children's Day Camp June 11 for third through sixth graders will show how all life in the forest spins down that big interdependent web known as the food chain. (Pre-registration required, $25; 964-3808.) 
For adults who are not up to walking the trails, Audrey has an answer: Just bring your own lawn chair and sit for a spell at her 10 a.m. "nature from the porch" talk June 13. It's free and comes complete with lemonade and tips on how to identify birds, trees and plants from your porch.
Also free is a 2 p.m. program June 7 on search and rescue dogs. Details:
Mt. Gretna's Bible Festival, now in its 117th year at the Campmeeting Tabernacle, needs a volunteer who'll serve as treasurer, succeeding Tom Steger. Don Zechman, 653-8588, has details.  



How and where did Mt. Gretna get started? 

You'll have a chance to find out June 13, in a community scavenger hunt through Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge - places where Mt. Gretna's history began.
The Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society, sponsoring the event which starts at Soldiers' Field at 11 a.m., invites everyone in town to join their neighbors in exploring the roles these areas played in our history. Guides at each location on the hunt, such as the site of the former Conewago Hotel, the Timbers, the lake and the monument at Soldiers' Field, will relate little-known stories about each stop. The adventure winds up at society headquarters, 206 Pennsylvania Avenue, from noon to 2 p.m. with refreshments and stories of people, memories and events relating to the area's history. Call 964-3412 by June 9 to let them know you're coming.

On June 20, Mt. Gretna Heights will be in the spotlight-first at an open house affair at the Historical Society (next to the Playhouse, on Pennsylvania Avenue) from 3 to 5 p.m. That's followed by a potluck supper (to which everyone in town is invited) in the Heights Community Building, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

For the Heights' supper, organizers are asking for RSVPs by June 16 to Pat Hershock, 964-3483, so they'll know how many are coming and what items they'll bring.

Then on Aug. 1, Campmeeting residents and neighbors will tour the historical society from 7 to 8:30 p.m. before Irene Rollman's self-guided walking tour through the grove for "Illumination of Our Cottages" at 9 p.m. Again, it's an event focusing on the Campmeeting but for the enjoyment of everyone who lives in Mt. Gretna.

Historical society planners expect to soon have details on a program that will highlight the role of the Chautauqua in Mt. Gretna's history.



1st   Place finish in her age group (Women 55 to 59) for CampmPat Allwein: at 59, just warming up.eeting athlete Pat Allwein in the 6th annual Mt. Gretna Triathlon last week. She's competed in the swim-bike-run marathon before, but this was the first time she had prepared with a 12-week training program.
"I guess it paid off," said Pat, who at 59 credits her conditioning to Body for Life, a book she discovered several years ago.
The May 23 race attracted over 600 athletes, including Mt. Gretnans Alisa and Marla Pitt, Brian Spangler and John Weaver.                                                                                                
Photo: Mike Allwein
Other competitors came from places like Palau in the Western Pacific, Canada and 14 other states. Pennsylvanians included Lancaster's T. J. Jordan, 41, who finished in an hour and 18 minutes, again winning the men's 40-to-44 division and beating his time last year. (He's the great-great-nephew of Nell Pontz, the 'scandalous' Mt. Gretna bather who posed with her bare forearms for a photographer at the lake early in the last century.) "I never met her but somehow I can hear her from the dock, cheering me on," says T. J., who expects to compete in the race for at least another 20 years.
Race organizer Chris Kaag, a former marine crippled by a rare neuromuscular disease, plans to get married in August. He says the triathlon has two goals: To help fund research into cures for the disease ($140,000 so far from Mt. Gretna race proceeds) and to raise awareness of the need to keep moving: "No matter what your abilities or disabilities, you can get up off your butt and do something," he says. "Don't ever sit around and do nothing."
With a fitness business in Reading, a charitable foundation IM ABLE to demonstrate that even the handicapped can stay active, and new duties as director of the YMCA's Triathlon at Speedwell this September, Chris backs up his words with actions.

1st  Woman to head the Lebanon Valley College Board of Trustees: Conewago Hill resident Lynn Phillips, a 1968 LVC grad who formerly coordinated an executive education program at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

1st  In the 42-mile Pennsylvania State Masters Bicycle Championship race at Bloomsburg May 23: Mt. Gretna borough manager Bill Care, 59. Not only did Bill take top honors in the 55-and-older division, he also crossed the finish line a bike's length ahead of Andy Buck, a national champion.

30  DifFitness instructor Nicole Maurerferent species spotted in a single outing of the Mt. Gretna Bird Club last month. They included "glamour" birds, like the rose-breasted grosbeak (left), scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, pileated woodpecker, hummingbirds, black billed and yellow billed cuckoos and warblers, says Evelyn Koppel, who snapped this photo from the deck of her home on Valley Road.
The club meets Friday mornings at 9 at Governor Dick nature center. Then they're off to scout the park or carpool to another site where they listen and watch for local and migrating birds. Like to join them? Click here to send Evelyn and husband Sid Hostetter an e-mail.
15,000 Tree seedlings to be planted at Governor Dick Park next winter and spring: 2,300 Sugar Maples 1,250 Black Cherry, 200 Eastern Redbuds, 1,000 Northern Red Oaks, 1,000 White Oaks, 750 Quaking Aspen; 200 Flowering Dogwoods; 300 Hybrid Chestnuts; 4,000 White Pines; 2,000 Virginia Pines; 1,500 White Spruce and 500 Eastern Hemlocks, the park's newsletter reports.  Under a $45,300 contract 50% funded by a Pennsylvania 'growing greener' grant, officials will also install 11,780 feet of deer fencing to protect the seedlings.